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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Tylenol, Autism,and Hype

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss various ideas about what causes the condition.  I also write:  "If the science were not confusing enough, its coverage in the mass media has added another layer of murk.  News reports hype tentative findings and weak correlations as “breakthroughs” in the quest for autism answers. "  

An earlier post described a study fingering the active ingredient in Tylenol.  Samantha Allen reports at The Daily Beast:
For expecting women, a strong link between acetaminophen and autism would be cause for alarm. But despite a recent flurry of alarmist headlines, the evidence for such an association is still lacking.

Pregnant women generally rely on acetaminophen, a painkiller commonly found in Tylenol, rather than potentially-risky ibuprofen to manage fevers and pain. But after aJune study in the International Journal of Epidemiology turned up a link between acetaminophen use during pregnancy and the incidence of autism and ADHD in children, the media was quick to exaggerate the findings.

The biggest offender, of course, was the Daily Mail, which declared in its headline that “women who take paracetamol [acetaminophen] during pregnancy ‘risk having a child with autism or ADHD.’” The words in single-quotes do not appear in the study itself.

As the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) was quick to point out in response, the study “provides no evidence of a direct link to either condition.”